Scene-by-Scene, Part Two

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May 9, 2024

In my last post, we established a basic definition of a scene — specifically that each scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Next, we'll look at several key elements that every well-crafted scene in a novel should contain. These elements determine how effectively the scene will engage readers and advance the narrative.

When writing fiction, try ensure each scene contains the following elements, in some fashion:


Establishing location could be as simple as showing the characters are in a coffee shop, or it can be as richly detailed as an outdoor night market on another planet. Whether you choose to dive into extreme world-building, or just write a couple lines about where your characters are, giving the reader some sense of place helps ground them in the action. 

Character introduction or development:

Each scene contains characters, and you must choose which ones will be showcased in any given scene. If you’re introducing a new character or adding a new one to a previous scene, what is their purpose? Do they exist to create conflict with the main character? Be intentional about what you want to reveal in each scene and understand how it will lead to each character's development over the course of the novel.

Conflict introduction or development:

Every scene should have some form of tension. This can be an external conflict between characters, an internal struggle within a character, or an obstacle that needs to be overcome. Perhaps it’s a secret the character is trying not to reveal, or a goal they’re trying to achieve. Your characters will have major goals across the whole book, but in each scene, they will have smaller goals that the character thinks will help them reach the overall goal.

Clear point-of-view (POV):

Character and conflict development both rely heavily on point-of-view. If you have an alternating-point-of-view book, each scene should reflect the perspective of the character who provides the best reading experience. Many times, you will preference the character with the most compelling narrative, but you should also consider what plot points the reader needs to know at that stage in your work. 

If there’s a revelation in that scene, the character with the information will probably control the point-of-view, but you can also choose to filter the information through another character’s perceptions. Base your choice on what is more important: for example, whether the information itself matters most (focus on the revelation) or its effect (focus on the reaction).

Balance with other scenes:

Finally, consider how the scene fits with the rest of the work. If you just wrote a wildly action-oriented scene, perhaps the next scene could be more reflective. One scene might consist of a lot of revelations, and the next might focus on characters processing the information.

The way you choose to order your scenes will affect pacing, tone, and reader engagement. The key is intentionality. Do you want your reader on an unending, breathless ride, or do you want to give them snippets of relief? The answer to that question determines what kind of scenes you’re giving them.

Crafting an excellent scene takes practice, like anything else. Ultimately, it comes down to analyzing your own work, both as a whole and on a scene-by-scene basis. As long as each of your scenes is advancing the plot, developing characters, and/or conveying important information, they will most likely keep your readers turning the page.

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